Canada needs a new energy strategy based on technology development and collaboration among all players, including consumers, says the top executive at Suncor Energy Inc.
In a keynote plenary talk held at the GLOBE 2004 environment business conference in Vancouver last week, Suncor president and CEO Rick George laid out what he called his strategic roadmap for the future of energy development in the country.
Every person is an energy consumer, so this means “we need to all be part of the solution,” he said.
|Rick George of Suncor|
“Consumers must become more engaged in our energy future.”
Canada and the rest of the world face an energy dilemma, with worldwide demand for energy growing faster than anyone had predicted, George said.
The environmental effects of producing energy to the demand are also increasing. By 2020, he said, the combined greenhouse gas emissions of India and China alone will begin to surpass the emissions by all other industrialized countries put together.
Compounding the dilemma is the fact that the world’s supply of hydrocarbons – oil, gas and coal – is limited and supplies are often located far from the people who need the energy the most.
Technology is the key to finding solutions to the energy dilemma, George said.
Suncor invests about $1.5 billion a year in research and development, and is using new technologies to markedly improve the oilsands producer’s environmental performance, he added.
The company has switched largely to cleaner natural gas-fired cogeneration instead of burning polluting petroleum coke in its bitumen-upgrading operation, cutting petroleum coke-related emissions by more than 75 per cent.
Suncor has also eliminated about 19 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by reducing the amount of CO2 emissions for each barrel of oilsands crude produced. However, the company’s total emissions of the greenhouse gas have grown because production at Suncor’s Fort McMurray oilsands plant has continued to increase to about 250,000 barrels of oil a day, George acknowledged.
Suncor is also recycling about 95 per cent of the water required to make the steam for its steam-assisted gravity drainage operation, in which hot steam is injected underground to loosen the tarry bitumen so it can be pumped to the surface.
George criticized both the corporate sector and the environmental community for often not seeing or refusing to talk about what the other side has to offer in the way of potential energy-related environmental solutions.
The corporate view is often preoccupied with obtaining relatively short-term returns on investment, while some environmental groups see their role as only to protest, rather than to help find solutions, he said.
Corporations, environmental groups, governments and consumers all need to get out of their “individual silos” and co-operate on finding solutions, said George, who called for more “open and honest collaboration.”
He pointed to the Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA) in Alberta as a successful model of a multi-stakeholder, consensus-based approach to finding solutions to difficult and frequently controversial energy-related environmental problems. CASA, which includes the Alberta and federal governments, the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, the energy sector and environmental groups, has cut oil- and gas-field flaring across the province by more than 53 per cent since 1996, George noted.
Last month, the Alberta cabinet also approved a CASA plan to significantly reduce polluting airborne emissions, including acid rain-forming sulphur dioxide, smog-producing nitrogen oxides and toxic mercury, from the electricity-generating sector in the province.
Canada-wide collaboration on an energy strategy also needs to include capital markets and consumers, George said.
The goal should be to improve development of all available energy sources, including conventional fossil fuels, renewable and alternative energies such as wind and solar power and small run-of-the-river hydro, and even nuclear power, he said.
George Anderson, deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, told GLOBE delegates that Canada’s oil and gas, mining, and forest industries play a key role in the country’s energy future.
These sectors generate about 13 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, account for 38.5 per cent of its exports, and employ more than one million people, he said.
The federal budget last month committed $1 billion over the next seven years to support development of new environmental technologies, Anderson said. “This is a growing industry with new opportunities.”
Alberta was well represented at the three-day biennial GLOBE conference and trade show, which wrapped up last Friday. Nearly 30 companies and organizations were full exhibitors in the trade show’s new Western Canada Pavilion, which also included B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Alberta speakers also figured prominently in two of GLOBE’s three themes this year: Corporate sustainability and climate change. Alberta Environment Minister Lorne Taylor participated with ministers from the federal government, Ontario, the U.K. and Argentina, in a special ministerial dialogue on sustainability.
However, Alberta was conspicuous by its absence in GLOBE’s third theme, focused on building better cities – even though Edmonton and Calgary are leaders in the country when it comes to municipal initiatives such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, tapping renewable energy sources like wind power, and composting urban waste.
Suncor’s George told Business Edge that there is also a future role for Alberta in producing hydrogen fuel for the vehicles that will use the Hydrogen Highway, a network of fuelling stations for fuel cell-powered vehicles, to be built from Vancouver to Whistler in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
It is technologically possible, using processes like gasification, to produce hydrogen from oilsands products, George said.
If Alberta can develop improved technology to do this affordably, he said, “Canada’s oilsands could be a major source of hydrogen at some point down the road.”